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Firsthand experience drives man's passion to help homeless

Bolduc dreams of helping others find shelter, stability
By Kendra Caruso | Dec 04, 2019
Courtesy of: Matt Bolduc Matt Bolduc parks his car at the intersection of Main and High streets in Belfast Nov. 18 and holds his arms out in a gesture meant to raise awareness about homelessness in Waldo County.

First of two parts.

Matthew Bolduc asked the audience, “What is the price of life?” during a discussion Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church he attends in Belfast. The Stockton Springs resident’s self-described “boots-on-the-ground” approach to addressing homelessness has shed light on the issue in Waldo County.

He runs a local group called From Above with retired school teacher David Smith. Bolduc seeks out local homeless encampments by traipsing through the woods where he knows people stay. Formerly homeless himself, he is familiar with the struggles some people face finding housing and a stable life.

Bolduc’s off-the-grid house sits on a piece of his deceased grandfather’s land. As his parents provided little structure and battled with addiction, his grandfather was one of the only positive influences he had growing up.

When Bolduc lost that influence at 13, his life spiraled into chaos, he said, and after his apartment burned down when he was 17, he parted ways with his father and began living in camps. He bounced in and out of the judicial system until he was 22, when he hit the open road as a homeless transient.

“Ever since I was almost 13 … I just started having this real bad attitude,” he said.

He received a firsthand education in the many situations of homelessness and the diverse people it afflicts. He has found people dead and known others who have been raped and beaten.

Thumbing his way up and down the East Coast, he always came back to his grandfather’s land to squat for a short period before hitting the road again. There were several moments, he said, when he came close to suicide.

“I tried killing myself all the time,” Bolduc said. “I had guns. Like, I used to stick a loaded gun in my mouth and I tried to kill myself. I couldn’t do it. I’d pull it out and shoot the house up. I did that many times.”

When Bolduc decided to come back to Waldo County for good, he was battling severe Crohn's disease, bowel inflammation and depression. Some neighbors helped him legally acquire his grandfather’s land and he slowly built his house.

Gina Martin, a former SequelCare employee and current Belfast Soup Kitchen assistant manager, helped him acquire disability benefits.

“He walked in off the streets just begging for anyone to help him fill out paperwork,” Martin said. “Because he didn’t have Social Security, he didn’t have a case manager, he didn’t have MaineCare and therefore pretty much people just look at you and turn you away.”

She happened to be in the office the day Bolduc showed up and helped him fill out the necessary paperwork to receive benefits. He was approved for a modest disability income. He is still very appreciative that she took the time to help him when no one else would.

“All I did really is fill out paperwork so the man could get Social Security and send him on his way,” she said.

Once he sorted out his housing and health, he felt an intense calling to help the homeless in Waldo County, he said. He spends much of his income on giving homeless people aid in the form of hygiene kits and assisting low-income families with critical home repairs.

“He’s a beautiful man,” Martin said. “He walked in here one day and said ‘Do you remember me?’ And I said ‘How do I forget those eyes?’ And he told me he started the nonprofit and he wanted to pay it forward and he remembered me. So, he actually brought in donations to us for the Soup Kitchen just because I randomly helped him years ago and he remembered that. That’s the beautiful human that Matt is.”

Bolduc helps homeless people find shelter, which sometimes means a temporary stay in someone’s shed. But, he said, for a lot of people, that is better than being exposed to the elements, especially in the winter when low temperatures can be life-threatening.

A hand up, not a hand out

Bolduc has a longtime dream to open a homeless shelter in downtown Belfast that also helps people out of homelessness. He used the Dec. 1 meeting at the church to survey local support for the idea.

He wants to call the facility Mission of Ministries Rehabilitation and is eyeing a large downtown building that once housed a nursing home. Eventually he wants to raise funds for the project and apply for state grants.

There were about 40 people at the discussion who shared stories and support for the homeless community, Bolduc said.

Bangor-based Hope for Homeless founder Ann Sweeney attended the event. She said she tried to reach out to the Belfast City Council to help with Waldo County homelessness after a homeless camp was discovered in October near Stephenson Preserve.

She said there was initial interest from councilors, but then she received a message from the City Manager’s Office that the council was addressing the issue in another way. But recently, she said, City Councilor Mike Hurley reached out to her seeking a meeting with her on ways to address the issue.

Hurley did not respond to an email about why he decided to reach out to Sweeney recently, or previous action the city took after the camp was discovered and cleaned up.

He was quoted in an October Republican Journal article about the camp, stating that he thought the people who were staying at the camp might have been “choosing to live cheaply.”

Bolduc said he spoke with a woman who stayed at the site when she was sitting downtown one day. He also visited the site, where he said six people were staying at one point. He said he tried to hand out hygiene kits, but four of the people refused them and requested he leave.

He said it was not a case of choosing to live cheaply, but rather he thinks unaddressed addiction and mental health issues were keeping the people in tents.

It is a common misconception, he said, that people choose to be homeless, but he does not think anyone living in those conditions chooses it. He said even when he was a homeless transient, it did not feel like a life he chose.

“I sit all over this town — hospital, McDonalds, Co-op," he said. "Every place I heard at least one person say … that it’s not mental health, people choose that (homelessness). They’re going off of what was said in the paper. But these are the people driving a new (auto)mobile and they are the people that have a hot shower and warm safe place.”

Bolduc is able to connect with many homeless people in Waldo County because he has struggled with housing issues and can relate to their experiences. He takes a patient approach to those with mental health issues and helped one local man, who would shout at people downtown, into a shelter in Augusta.

Every week, he checks on up to 20 homeless people and low-income families in Waldo County. He asks how they are doing and if he can help them with any of their struggles — sometimes that means donating time rather than money.

On Sunday, Jan. 5, there will be another meeting at noon the UU Church, 37 Miller St., where Bolduc will ask people, what is the price of a life in Waldo County? And his answer is always “whatever it takes.” To find out how to help or how to get help, contact Matt Bolduc at 299-7394.

“I’m dedicated to it," he said. "Like, somebody asked me, ‘Hey Matt, how long are you going to do this for? You did your hygiene thing, you got these guys in the shelter.' I said either until I died from severe Crohn’s disease or old age. I said I’m in it for the long haul.”

Matt Bolduc talks about issues he faced as a homeless man at the UU Church in Belfast Dec. 1. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
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Comments (2)
Posted by: Susan Guthrie | Dec 06, 2019 11:13

Matthew Bolduc is correct. No one chooses to be homeless. It is well know that homelessness is the result of addiction and mental illness, often stemming from adverse childhood experiences. With kindness and help, everyone can make it back to shore. Thank you, Matthew, for your work.

Posted by: Patricia A Pendergast | Dec 05, 2019 07:02

There is so much good among us. Very nice series of articles by Kendra.

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